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SMITH, Michelle

SPRING 2010, 40:2, pages 128-145

Containment Rhetoric and the Public Sphere: Imagining Amana, Inscribing America 

Abstract: Nineteenth-century presses delighted in reporting on the “spectacle” of the Amana Society, playing up the contrast between this pious communistic community of German immigrants and its “ambitious” individualistic American counterparts. These accounts employed a rhetoric of containment, a form of rhetorical imagining that contains the threat of a non-normative community. Three characteristics of this rhetoric are evident in the Amana descriptions: (1) a particular gaze that views the community as a picture; (2) a degree of praise that is simultaneously undermined by a nostalgic attitude toward the community; and (3) an assertion that the benefits of this lifestyle require an unthinkable sacrifice incompatible with the imagining audience's nature or values. Containment rhetoric neutralizes the threat of the imagined group—often by circulating its tropes and images to more public, powerful venues—and implicitly defines the group as peripheral to the larger public.

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